The U.S. Swimming Trials is underway in Omaha, Nebraska, and runs through July 3. Veteran swimmers and rising stars are swimming for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team and a chance to go for the gold in Rio. While USA Swimming has tightened the qualifying times in an effort to shorten the preliminary sessions, the numbers of swimmers who have qualified for at least one event has still nearly doubled since 2012 to over 1,800 swimmers. There are 26 total events at the Swimming Trials. With so many events and swimmers to watch, here are a few top stories to look out for over the course of the week.
Michael Phelps, a four-time Olympian and 22-time medalist (18 gold), will be back at the Olympic Trials following a brief retirement. After the 2012 Olympics, Phelps retired, but he returned to competitive swimming in ’14 with the goal of competing in his fifth Olympics. He will be trying to race his way onto the Olympic team for what he has confirmed will be his last Olympics (as long as he makes the team).
Although he will be swimming in a few different events, the men’s 200 individual medley will be the one to watch, as he is facing his longtime rival, Ryan Lochte. While Phelps has won this event in the past three Olympics, Lochte is the current world record holder. Lochte’s record of 1:54.00 barely beats Phelps’ time of 1:54.16.
Katie Ledecky has become one of the most superior athletes in the world and has dominated long distance events. Ledecky is a one time Olympian as she competed in the 2012 Olympics at the age of 15. In her only event, the 800-meter freestyle, she brought home the gold. Her best event is still the 800 freestyle, in which she has broken her own world record four times, but she has also expanded into middle and sprint events. At the 2015 World Championships, she became the first swimmer to win gold in the 200, 400, 800, and 1500 freestyle events. It is almost certain that Ledecky will earn a spot on the team.
Missy Franklin has become one of the United States most recognizable swimmers following her performance at the 2012 Olympics. She was the first U.S. women’s swimmer to compete in seven events in a single Olympics, winning five medals. She took home four gold (100 backstroke, 200 backstroke, 4x200 freestyle relay, 4x100 medley relay) and one bronze (4x100 freestyle relay).
She is once again on a quest for another chance to swim for the U.S. Olympic team after suffering from a back injury that had her struggling during the ’14 and ’15 seasons. While she was known primarily for her backstroke in the 2012 Olympics, her most noticeable improvements in recent years are in freestyle events. At the 2015 World Championships, Franklin captured the bronze medal in the 200 freestyle.
While swimmers such as Phelps, Lochte, Ledecky, and Franklin have become the face of U.S. swimming, there are many other swimmers who are looking to make history.
Natalie Coughlin is a three-time Olympian who has won 12 Olympic medals. She will try to make the 2016 Olympic team with the goal of being able to win one more medal. If does win another, she will become the women’s leader in Olympic medals. Coughlin’s focus has been in sprint events, including the 50 and 100 freestyle races.
Reece Whitley, the 2015 Sports Illustrated Kids SportsKid of the Year, will be competing in his first Olympic swim trials. At 16 years old, Reece will be one of the younger competitors, and he will stand out for another reason — he is 6 feet 8 inches tall. Reece will be competing in the 100 and 200 breaststroke races. He does have international competition experience in these two events. He participated in the 2015 World Junior Championships and placed second in the 100 and fourth in the 200.
These swimmers are some of the most dedicated athletes in the world. They have been training for years – in some cases, decades. It is not uncommon for swimmers to practice up to five hours a day, six to seven days a week. Some of these swimming events will be completed within a few minutes, and just hundredths of seconds will separate the swimmers. The Olympic Swim Trials is sure to be one of the most exciting sporting events of the year.
Check daily listings on NBCSN and NBC for race coverage.
Photographs: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images (Ledecky); Alex Menendez/Getty Images (Franklin); Tom Pennington/Getty Images (Phelps)